Mercy Health Love County - News

High School Puppeteers Have a Heart for Children

Posted on Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Child Abuse Prevention Puppeteers: Holding hand puppets, speech students Erika Agpawa, Karli Plunkett, Brenton Brown, Lauren Navarro, and Trysta Kershner enjoy a light moment during rehearsal, as speech teacher Donna Plunkett, and Community Children’s Shelter counselor Stacey Letkeiwicz look on.

Four years as a puppeteer hasn’t diminished the satisfaction Brenton Brown takes as one of the unseen stars of the annual Child Abuse Prevention Month puppet show.
Brown and 17 of his fellow students from the speech department of Marietta High School will don hand puppets from behind a portable stage to deliver the prevention message.
“Helping the kids makes me feel good about it. Two years ago, someone actually stepped forward (to report abuse) and even if it just helps one kid, then we’ve done our job,” he said.
The program was designed by the Love County Community Coalition in 1994. Since then it has been shown every April to all elementary children at Marietta, Thackerville, Greenville, and Turner schools.
The program is intended to present useful information in a nonthreatening way to children so they can protect themselves from child abuse, feel empowered to say “No” to suggestions or actions by adults that are improper, and take the initiative to tell someone about the abuse and keep telling until someone listens and does something about it.
The show includes scripts on sexual abuse, physical abuse, and a humorous take on learning the 911 emergency number.
Narrators are Stacey Letkiewicz and Elizabeth Davis, counselors in the Family Resource Program of the Community Children’s Shelter.
The puppets were designed and sewn by Love County extension homemakers.
Another veteran puppeteer, Lauren Navarro, remembers seeing the program while in grade school.
“I saw the script every year starting in 2000. I remember how I used to watch and think, ‘This isn’t happening to me but it could be happening to some of my friends, so this could be helping them.’”
Karli Plunkett, a sophomore puppeteer, said a friend told her “something had happened to her and the play helped her know what to do about it.”
Trysta Kershner, and Erika Agpawa, two new puppeteers, are looking forward to participating. “I’ve heard about child abuse. I think children need to know what they’re going to do,” Erika said.
This year’s group of puppeteers also includes Selina Barrientos, Chelsie Campbell, Makenzie Clark, Stephanie Davis, Andy Fleming, Angelica Greenwood, Isis Hilton, Ember Hinkley, Justin Kershner, Cody Petersen, Jessica Sanchez, Mireya Venegas, and Caitlyn Wilson.
The puppeteers take turns appearing in the 30-minute program, which plays out over four days from April 19-28.
Letkeiwicz has narrated the presentation for the past six years.
“I count on the speech students to know that what they are doing is important and to be responsible while they’re on the stage. So far, every student has been very courteous and helpful and projected their voice and knew how to act.”
She said introducing the high schoolers after the program creates a buzz.
“The message means more when it comes from an older student. The children really identify with that,” she said.
While transporting the puppeteers to the performances she enjoys recalling her days at Dickson High School, where she once competed in the state speech contest.
She holds two degrees from East Central University – a master’s in human resource counseling and a bachelor’s in counseling, with a minor in services to the deaf.
She said she appreciates the speech teacher, Donna Plunkett, who makes time in the school schedule for participation in the puppet show.
“I like to see them use their talents for others. They are always eager to be in the program,” Plunkett said of her students.
“I appreciate the administrative support we have. April is a very busy month because of testing and end-of-the-year events. They realize how important this program is,” she added.
Mercy Health/Love County Hospital and Clinic will furnish “101 Ways to Praise Children” bookmarks and “There’s No Excuse for Child Abuse” ribbons to all grades.
The Love County Multidisciplinary Team will give away “Good Touch/Bad Touch” coloring books to pre-school-grades 3.
The team of child welfare, law enforcement, mental health, and medical professionals, headed by the Assistant District Attorney’s office, jointly investigates criminal cases of child abuse.